Bookkeeping clerks (also called bookkeepers) and accounting clerks create and maintain financial records for businesses and individuals. They record everyday business transactions according to generally accepted accounting procedures (GAAP), which use a double-entry system to identify both debit and corresponding credit entries in the general ledger (GL).
Ultimately, the general ledger balances can be transformed into balance sheets, income statements (or profit-and-loss statements, aka P&L) and other reports which help summarize the financial health of the organization. Accounting clerks are typically involved in specific areas of the financial-records process, but not to the point of balancing the general ledger or preparing balance sheets and income statements.
Day in the Life of Bookkeeping and Accounting Clerks
Bookkeeper job description: The responsibilities of a bookkeeper can vary based on the size and type of business that employs them.
Small-business bookkeepers may have full control over the general ledger and financial reporting. At a large corporation, bookkeepers are likely to specialize in a specific area such as payroll or accounts receivable. And some types of businesses may require bookkeepers to take on other tasks such as monitoring loans and interest payments or ensuring compliance with regulatory requirements.
In general, bookkeepers do the following:
- Record financial transactions as debits/credits in a general ledger maintained in bookkeeping software, spreadsheets or databases
- Prepare bank deposits, checks and reconcile bank statements
- Monitor past-due accounts and facilitate the collection/payment process
- Accept and post income transactions (reflecting cash, checks and vouchers received) to the general ledger
- Pay and post expense transactions (reflecting bills and payments paid, including payroll) to the general ledger
- Balance the general ledger
- Produce monthly, quarterly and annual financial reports including balance sheets, income statements and cash flow reports
- Ensure that all figures, postings, accounts and reports are accurate
- Reconcile or report any discrepancies they discover to management
Accounting clerk job description: Accounting clerks typically do specific financial tasks for large companies, and their job titles often reflect their area of responsibility and level of experience. For example:
- Accounts receivable clerks help manage the revenue-collection process — maintain accurate records of customer payments and other monies that are received.
- Accounts payable clerks help manage the expense-payment process — process vendor invoices and schedule payment to vendors.
In general, accounting clerks do the following, depending on their level of experience:
- Record and verify the details of business transactions — such as the date, quantity and type of a product sold or service rendered
- Maintain and verify that account totals/balances are correct
- Calculate interest charges
- Monitor and verify scheduled payments on loans and other accounts
- Facilitate the payment-approval process by organizing billing vouchers
- Verify that customer and/or vendor account data is complete and accurate
- Code documents for posting to various general ledger accounts
Accounting clerks and bookkeepers typically work in office settings. A bookkeeper who works for several clients may work at their clients' offices as needed. Bookkeepers often work independently, but may also collaborate with accountants, auditing clerks, and managers from other departments.
Important Characteristics for Bookkeeping and Accounting Clerks
One characteristic that is absolutely essential for bookkeeping and accounting clerks — which is difficult to express in a bookkeeper job description — is integrity. Bookkeeping and accounting clerks manage highly sensitive and confidential information for their employers. As such, it is important that they maintain a high ethical standard as they perform their duties.
Aside from a high level of trust and integrity, there are several other traits and skills these workers depend on to be successful:
- Aptitude for numbers and mathematics
- Ability to maintain confidentiality with sensitive corporate and personal information
- Competence with computers, spreadsheets, databases and bookkeeping software programs
- Ability to pay close attention to detail in order to maintain accurate records and recognize errors quickly
While there can be different paths to take to enter the field of bookkeeping and accountancy, the general pathway includes the following steps:
- Lay the groundwork in high school. Give yourself an edge by earning a high school diploma and taking courses in math, business, computers and office training while in high school.
- Get an internship or part-time job in an accounting office. While still in high school or college, pursue an internship or part-time job in a bookkeeper's or accountant's office. Your employer can show you how they work and introduce you to the computer programs they use.
- Become familiar with accounting software. Learn how to use accounting software and spreadsheets. Online tutorials can help you understand the basics of how those programs work.
- Earn an associate degree or complete vocational training. Some post-secondary education is required for most bookkeeping and accounting clerk positions. Earning an associate degree may help you master the nuances of generally accepted accounting principles and expose you to cost accounting, inventory control methods, federal income tax practices and other aspects of bookkeeping and accountancy.
- Participate in on-the-job training. Bookkeeping and accounting clerks usually get about 6 months of on-the-job training. A supervisor or other experienced employee trains clerks to do their tasks during this period. Training may take place in a classroom setting in order to demonstrate the use of specialized software.
- Earn certification. After you've been a bookkeeper for the equivalent of two years, you can earn your Certified Bookkeeper designation from the American Institute of Professional Bookkeepers. For those who do not have post-secondary education, certification is a particularly useful way to demonstrate expertise in the field.
- Become licensed. In addition to certification, you can become a licensed Certified Public Bookkeeper through the National Association of Certified Public Bookkeepers. This license requires that you take 24 hours of continuing professional education annually.
- Bookkeeping, Accounting, and Auditing Clerks, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Accessed December 2017, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/office-and-administrative-support/bookkeeping-accounting-and-auditing-clerks.htm
- Bookkeeping, Accounting, and Auditing Clerks, Summary Report, O*NET OnLine, Accessed December 2017, https://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/43-3031.00
- National Bookkeepers Association Certified Public Bookkeepers (CPB) Exam, Accessed December 2017, http://bookkeeperassociation.org/exam/certified-public-bookkeeper.cfm